Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Q & A with Lawrence Friedman: on writing

Note to readers:  This is the second in a series of questions and answers with Lawrence Friedman.  If you have a question you've wanted to ask him, please post it in a comment, or email me. 

Question:  How on earth do you write so much?  Just this year, you published two new scholarly books.  Do you write every day?  Do you write a certain amount at a time (some people set a goal, like 1000 words per day)?  Or do you write for a certain amount of time every day?  Please share your secrets.

Answer (from Lawrence):  How do I write so much?  Well, one flippant answer I give to this (frequently asked) question is:  I've lived a long time.  I'm not retired.  I'm still writing.  So in a way, that's cheating.

I haven't got a non-flippant answer.  My only secret is:  letting go.  I do the best I can, but I'm not the anal-retentive type of legal academic.  I like to finish whatever I'm doing and get on to the next thing.  I know that the work (whatever it is) isn't perfect, but I'm quick to recognize a point of diminishing returns.  Some scholars (particularly in law schools) feel they have to read everything written about the subject, and then some.  It doesn't pay.  And I get bored very quickly, which leads me to say (about whatever my current project is):  OK, enough is enough, let's declare victory and end the struggle with the material. 
Anyway, I hope there's no trade-off between quantity and quality.  I do write a lot.  Is that important?  Frederick Jackson Turner wrote very little.  I seem to remember reading somewhere something to that effect.  But the little he wrote was provocative and influential. 


Shag from Brookline said...

Prof. Friedman says: "Some scholars (particularly in law schools) feel they have to read everything written about the subject, and then some."

I'm not a scholar but in over 50 of practicing law I have read much scholarly writing on the law, and even much more since SSRN (thankfully) came into operation. I wonder how legal academy scholars react to Prof. Friedman's statement. And can it be reconciled with "law office history" that legal scholars are often accused of, as I thought they were reading selectively on adversarial - as opposed to historical - missions?

Mary L. Dudziak said...

Shag, Lawrence Friedman is not doing "law office history," as I'm sure you know. And of course he is amazingly well read. The question of how much to read before writing on a topic is an issue regardless of one's motives or the nature of one's legal history.